The Oxford Scholar has re-opened to the public after an extensive renovation, marking the beginning of a new chapter in one of Melbourne’s oldest stories.
A treasured RMIT landmark, the Oxford Scholar has been expanded and will now live on as a venue and function space for the next generation of RMIT students and the community.
RMIT Dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Design, Professor Martyn Hook, said the University had a proud history of architectural innovation.
“Today’s re-opening is a tremendous achievement and it truly demonstrates RMIT’s ongoing commitment to preserving and enhancing Melbourne’s cultural landmarks,” he said.
“The Oxford Scholar will join other notable Swanston St sites including RMIT’s New Academic Street and the iconic Capitol Theatre, which will also re-open its doors in 2019.”
March Studio Director, architect and RMIT alumnus Rodney Eggleston led the creative transformation, drawing on his memories of the Oxford Scholar as a student sanctuary.
Professor Hook said the University was always looking to provide opportunities to alumni like Eggleston to build on its exemplary performance in procuring innovative architecture.
“This is another example of how we’re creating new spaces for engaging with industry and community, and remarkable experiences to connect students to alumni,” he said.
Eggleston said he was thrilled to be able to participate in the rebirth of the institution.
A pub has existed on the Oxford Scholar site at the northern-end of Swanston St since the Victorian gold rush, when it was surrounded by tobacco warehouses and popular with local workers, before booming as a student watering hole in the 1960s.
“The Oxford Scholar has always been a sort of on/off-campus environment, symptomatic of how RMIT is so deeply embedded into the city life and landscape,” Eggleston said.
“If you studied at RMIT, you’ve likely popped in to the Scholar.”
While the Oxford Scholar name may conjure up old images of the Establishment; with flocked wall paper and English accents, Eggleston was quick to clarify that the only thing old about the Oxford Scholar today was its name and its heritage listed walls flanking Swanston and A’Beckett Streets.
“We drew inspiration from the old English colonial pub but represented and manipulated it to provide a democratic space for all, which is what RMIT stands for,” he said.
Using technology to reinvent the original, Eggleston said the Oxford Scholar was designed to be an inclusive space where alumni, students and the community could “plug in and tap out”.
Student Union (RUSU) President Ella Gvildys said it was fantastic to see this social hub for students finally re-open.
“RUSU is excited to see the Oxford Scholar back in operation and we look forward to seeing what kinds of events are possible in the renovated space,” she said.
Property Services Executive Director Chris Hewison said he was delighted that the historic building refurbishment was now complete.
“We’ve transformed a beloved student watering hole and ensured its future, not just for RMIT students, staff and alumni, but also the wider community,” he said.
“And with the top two floors being used as bookable function spaces exclusively for staff, student and alumni, we’ve also created another place for the RMIT community to connect and collaborate.”
The Oxford Scholar has been leased to the Mahony Group (TMG) who, in late 2018, won the tender to manage day-to-day operations.
Mahony Group Operations Manager Jimmy Ujgunovski said he was looking forward to providing a food offering that reflected the contemporary market and met the needs of a varied community.
“A big focus is having a good source of entertainment and a wide range of locally-sourced craft beer on offer,” he said.
“The menu will also feature fresh products that are sourced locally and provide options for shared plates or individual choices.”
The venue has been expanded with flexibility in mind and boasts a significant increase in capacity, with the modernised ground floor now licensed for up to 280 patrons.
Story: Jasmijn van Houten and Amelia Harris